The Devil's Minion: How Assad Zaman Is Bringing The Théâtre des Vampires to Life in Interview With The Vampire | Playbill

Film & TV Features The Devil's Minion: How Assad Zaman Is Bringing The Théâtre des Vampires to Life in Interview With The Vampire

The actor is using his extensive London stage background to play the artistic director of an immortal theatre company.

Assad Zaman Larry Horricks/AMC

For Assad Zaman, the secret to depicting immortality lies within the layers.

A favored stage actor in the U.K., Zaman plays the vampire Armand in AMC’s television adaptation of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles with a dexterous sensitivity that has captivated audiences since his first appearance on screen. Initially introduced to audiences as Rashid, a seemingly mortal assistant to Jacob Anderson’s Louis de Pointe du Lac, layers of obfuscation were shed by the end of Season 1 to reveal Armand’s true immortal identity.

“It was a challenge!” Zaman exclaims, referring to the layered performance of acting-as-Armand-acting-as-Rashid. “But at the same time, it was liberating, because I knew going in where the Rashid story was going, and I knew that I needed to sow the seeds so I could bird on it later. Finding those very brief moments that you get to see Armand through Rashid was so important.” 

Since 2013, Zaman has garnered attention throughout the English theatrical scene, starring in the 25th anniversary production of Ayub Khan-Din’s East Is East, and several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company. “The theatre is my comfort zone,” Zaman shares, all smiles. “I very much knew how we were going to embrace the theatre this season, and was eager to sink my teeth into it.” Pun intended.

Assad Zaman in Coriolanus Helen Maybanks

The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Zaman was first seduced by the theatre’s siren song as a teenager. “I know exactly when it happened. I was 15 or 16, and my school took a group of us to a show in Newcastle, which was an international telling of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was an RSC production, with an entire company of actors from the Asian continent, across East and South Asia, all speaking different languages. The whole play was done in every language they spoke but English, and it was so beautiful and physical. I was blown away by it, and seeing people who looked like me on stage.”

While Interview With the Vampire engages multiple timelines, Season 2 focuses primarily on Post-World War II Paris, where Armand is the Artistic Director of the multi-lingual Théâtre des Vampires. While the vampiric company is fictional, the on-screen theatre draws heavily from numerous European theatre traditions, including Italian commedia dell'arte, Irish absurdism, and, perhaps its greatest influence, Paris’ bloody Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Specializing in horror vignettes that whipped audiences into a frenzied bloodlust, the Grand Guignol provides the perfect historical cover for a coven of vampires hiding in plain sight.

“They feel everything to the extreme,” Zaman states, referring to Rice’s conception of vampirism, which revived the genre in the 1970s. “Of course, a stage with an auditorium full of people is the best place for a vampire to be!”

Assad Zaman Larry Horricks/AMC

While the television adaptation is, by necessity, contained within the screen, part of what makes the series so irrepressibly enticing is its theatrical approach to storytelling. As in a play, the text is sacrosanct, as are the emotional arcs that are woven throughout the narrative. “Our show is embracing the telenovela level of emotions they’re grappling with…We're embracing true theatricality, only through the screen medium. If we could burst out of that screen, we would, in terms of how we show the theatre and the sweeping emotions, needs, and desires of these vampires.”

Now, with the curtain pulled back on the first layer of Armand’s performance, Zaman is faced with a new challenge. As the mastermind behind the Théâtre des Vampires coven and its artistic output, Armand is a tempest of contradictions. Ancient yet puckish, shrewd yet supplicant, the character has fascinated audiences since Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire was published in 1976. Armand had been portrayed on screen numerous times (and on stage in the musical Lestat), but Zaman is the first actor to depict the horrifying aspects of Armand’s early life, and the traumatic scars that shaped his psyche. Despite having Rice’s books as a base, it hasn’t been a straightforward task.

“His is a really difficult history,” Zaman admits, noting he was initially “baffled by how I was ever going to relate to anything Armand had been through, because it's so harrowing, and so tragic. And I was really worried about that, and how I could possibly meet it as an actor. But the feelings that come from the trauma, and the ways in which we find ourselves coping, are often similar—regardless of the level of trauma.”

Assad Zaman Larry Horricks/AMC

While the first two seasons of Interview with the Vampire are primarily based on the first book in The Vampire Chronicles, Zaman found his way in through the sixth book in the series, which centers on Armand. “The books were everything for me,” Zaman says emphatically. “I read The Vampire Armand before Interview with the Vampire, because I knew that Anne Rice's relationship with her characters dramatically changed after the first book. I wanted to see who and what Armand was in that book, so as to integrate that version of him into Interview with the Vampire.”

As Zaman found his way inside Armand’s skin, it became a struggle to shed him after returning home. “I’ve never been methodical, in terms of my work. And suddenly I found myself… I think purely because of how long I'd been living with Armand, throughout Season 1 and the hiatus, and into filming Season 2, that by the end of filming Season 2, I hadn't realized how much of his anxieties, his insecurities, and his feelings lingered in me. Certainly, more than I had really hoped for, or wanted. And it has certainly had an effect. He’s always with me, now.”

Despite its emotional effect, Zaman is treasuring the chance to play Armand throughout each of the show’s timelines, ranging from pre-revolutionary Europe and post-war Paris through to 1970s San Francisco and modern-day Dubai. For the modern-day scenes, Zaman has spent almost all of his time with co-stars Anderson and veteran stage actor Eric Bogosian, with the trio forming a remarkably tight triad. “Observing them in Season 1 was a true lesson in acting, and I valued that going into our little three-person tennis matches. And even in those intense moments between the three, especially between Armand and Daniel, we have built so much trust in each other as scene partners.”

Jacob Anderson, Assad Zaman, and Eric Bogosian Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

Meanwhile, in the Parisian scenes, the carefully constructed chaos of the Théâtre des Vampires was a hearty comfort to Zaman. AMC’s version of the fictional troupe is partially made up of members from the real-life European theatre company 1927. Founded by Suzanne Andrade (who plays Celeste in Interview), Esme Appleton (who plays Estelle), animator Paul Barritt, and composer Lillian Henley, the company produced the choreography, animation, and stage concepts for the television show. Says Zaman: “I flew out to meet the theatre company in London, prior to shooting. We did a few days of workshops to really bring the theatre to life, and find each other as a company off screen.”

Once on set, everything clicked into place. “The backstage area is just brilliant,” Zaman remarks, his buoyant energy breaking through. “It's so beautifully constructed. Mara [LePere-Schloop, the series’ production designer] is a genius. The coven’s costumer, Hans Luchenbaum, has this huge table right in the middle of the dressing room area, full of textiles, props, costumes, just everything you could want.” Zaman blushes slightly before continuing. “When I was growing up, I used to play with dolls, and now I just love having toys or props around. Hans's table in the dressing room was my sort of happy place during shooting, I loved looking at all the useful trinkets I could play with.”

Assad Zaman and Delainey Hayles Larry Horricks/AMC

Zaman’s fondness for a prop isn’t limited to the Théâtre des Vampires, thankfully. When faced with fans' description of his Armand as an immortal “iPad kid,” he can’t help but laugh. “The iPad is going to be iconic now, forever. And I love that! In season one, when I got the iPad for the first time as Rashid, the props master gave me a very basic old iPad with a few screens for Rashid to play with in the background. I jokingly asked if he had any games, and the next day the props master gave me three: Minecraft, solitaire, and pool. A lot of the scenes that you see in season one, where I'm just in the background, I am playing Minecraft. And now, in season two, the iPad is bigger, and it's more advanced, but he’s still got his video games.”

While Armand spends most of his theatrical life offstage as the artistic director and coven master of the Théâtre des Vampire, Zaman has formed a fictionally frictive dynamic with Olivier-winning actor Ben Daniels, who plays the troupe’s leading star Santiago. “We are having so much fun,” Zaman smiles wide, his eyes alight as he recalls the duo's on-screen sparring. “The thing I love about Ben Daniels is that he’s just so easy. He's effortless. His charm, his power, his ferocity, everything is just so effortless.”

Assad Zaman Larry Horricks/AMC

As Armand and Santiago’s working relationship deteriorates in the face of Armand’s shifting loyalty toward Louis, and Santiago’s jockeying for power, their onscreen banter has sharpened to a razor's edge. “He does it in a wink. In the later episodes, you see some more directing from Armand. And it's hilarious, because the guy is so good, he doesn't really need much directing. We have had a lot of fun crafting those scenes in that relationship.”

Two seasons in, Zaman is now well aware of the complexities of immortal relationships. When an individual lives forever, mortal notions of fidelity, boundaries, and dependency often fall to the wayside—as do traditional approaches to gender identity and sexuality. As absolutes lose meaning in the face of eternity, an amorphous, pansexual curiosity tends to take hold, at least in Rice’s universe. Armand exists at the intersection of many relational crosshairs; a survivor of intense sexual trauma and abuse, his fixation on being "of service" as the proclaimed love of Louis’s life certainly sounds alarm bells.

Assad Zaman and Jacob Anderson Larry Horricks/AMC

When questioned as to if Armand is capable of receiving love, Zaman prevaricates. “I have my answer, but I ultimately think it's something that is up to the audience to decide. He's flawed in his need and desire for love. Does he know what love is? Does he know how to receive it? Would he recognize it, if he received love? I would go as far as to question if what Louis is showing is love. Is that real love? Is that what Louis offers? They both think they're giving and receiving love, but are they or are they coping in their own ways, and giving and receiving something else that presents itself as love? I don't know.”

As fans clamor for information about the season's hotly anticipated fifth episode, which will up-end much of the season’s established dynamic when it airs June 9, Zaman is artfully tight-lipped. “When I read it, it blew me away. The sort of dark, twisted tenderness…The language that's written is done so well, and I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into doing those scenes. I’m so excited for the fans to see them.”

Still, Zaman can’t help but tip forward a hint for fans to carry through the final four episodes of the season. “The uniqueness of the show is that I don't think we're on anyone's side in how we're telling this story. I think it would be wrong to paint Louis as an all-good individual, or paint Armand as an all-bad individual; no one is painted with broad strokes. When you live that long, there's layers to their souls. The moment you feel you know it all, there’s something new to be revealed.”

Photos: Assad Zaman in Interview With The Vampire

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting with your ad blocker.
Thank you!